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Where To Go In The Lesser Antilles Instead of Aruba

Aruba was and is for a lot of people, a place to rave about. I was certainly part of this group after my first visit in 1999. When I returned in 2015, I found that the rest of the world discovered the island. On that first visit, we had sites such as the Alto Vista chapel all to ourselves. In 2015, we boarded the rather fun and majorly colorful Kukoo Kunuku bus and swung by the Chapel again on our way to the beach. It was so crowded. I was a little bummed to see that one of Aruba’s nicest beaches was packed full of many more people than years before, and I saw plastic cups and litter being moved back and forth by the clear blue waves. I wonder what the crowd level on the 4×4 drive to the remote and rugged Natural Pool is? Aruba still has charisma, but somehow it wasn’t the same, at least for me. I completely understand if it’s your favorite place in the world. Who am I to judge otherwise on the locations that make someone happy?

The islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao make up what is called the “ABC Islands” or the Lesser Antilles in the southern Caribbean. So, which should you choose to explore? The answer is as clear as the Caribbean water. Curaçao.

Picture of Caribbean Beach Curacao Mambo Beach
Curacao’s Mambo Beach

Curaçao is a Dutch island and its Danish presence is obvious almost everywhere, starting with the main drag in the capital city of Willemstad. It looks exactly like the side by side Dutch Colonial houses in Belgium, except in Curaçao they are painted in just about every color of the rainbow. Why do all of the buildings seem to resemble a bag of Skittles? Because the Governor of Curaçao at one time demanded that none of the buildings be white. The irony is that it turns out he had some ownership of the local Paint Factory on the island. He made money on this demand, which seems really wrong, but the buildings are now a treat for the eyes while enjoying the many perks this island has to offer. One of the perks – the evidence that this island is (at the moment) far less “discovered” by travelers.

Picture of colorful buildings downtown Williamsted Curacao
Downtown Williamsted

Of course we wanted to get an overview of the island, so we had a local guide take us to various parts of the island. One of the areas included the neighborhood where you will find really nice houses that quite a few celebrities are probably poppin’ bottles of expensive Ròse – it was essentially the Beverly Hills of the island. Afterwards, we made a stop at the Blue Curaçao Distillery.

Picture of Blue Curacao in Curacao distillery
Curacao’s liquors including the famous Blue Curacao are only real if they come in these glass bottles.

If you’ve ever had a mixed drink that is any way blue in color, chances are you’ve had the Blue Curaçao liquor (or some knock off variation). We learned how to identify real Blue Curaçao by the shape of the bottle that it is in, and sampled various other flavors.

We learned that the local children typically know multiple languages – Dutch at school, Papiamento at home, and they usually know English and/or Spanish. We learned that Curaçao is referred to as “Mother Curaçao” because many other Caribbean islands rely on it’s well developed banking infrastructure. We learned that the word “Dushi” in Papiamento means something sweet/your sweetheart. There’s a giant sign featuring this word in downtown Williamsted, which is fun to take pictures of while seeing how many times you can use “Dushi” in a sentence.

Picture of the dushi sign in Curacao
Dushi in the Papiamento language means “something sweet.”

We hung out on Christmas Day on Mambo Beach. The beach was so clean! It didn’t have any garbage in sight and pulled a decent but acceptable crowd for the Holiday.

Picture of Mambo Beach Curacao
The beautiful blue water found in Curacao

The feeling of being somewhere that is culturaly different and makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside without the massive crowds is a winner in my book.

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